Currently I am on summer vacation. I am a dedicated yogi, so I try to keep up my six times a week Ashtanga practice. But I allow myself to sleep in. I start my practice whenever I wake up. So far so good.
Today when I was done with the standing poses my son walked in. He starts to talk about the weather.
He also asks me when I will be finished. He asks that every day, even though he has seen me practicing a zillion times, and should know the sequence by heart, too. I pause to talk about the weather. It is indeed raining cats and dogs outside. My son lays down on the couch next to my mat and I continue my practice. While I hang inBhujapidasana my daughter walks in. She makes me laugh. It is mid-August and she is wearing her wooliest sweater and her thickest socks. She gets down on my mat to give me a kiss. I smile and continue my practice. In Setu Bhandasana my dog walks in to sit right behind my head. She wants to go outside and tells me so by sitting there. No space for chakrasana. I pause to ask my son to take her out. I continue my practice. I mix up the three final seats. My daughter demands breakfast.
This is how my practice looks like on most days. My family shows up on and around the mat eventually. Sometimes quietly, sometimes loudly.
Of course I could find ways to practice without interruptions: Set the alarm to 5 am, lock the door, go a long way to a studio. But I love my home practice - and I love my kids and my dog.
Sometimes in the Ashtanga Yoga world family is called the seventh and last one of the series. I agree. Family is the most challenging and advanced of the series. Practicing first or second series daily is already a commitment. Practising seventh series on top I often feel exhausted. But I don’t want to change a thing. That is my life that I love and I face it by practicing contentment and equanimity simultaneously.
I have never practiced with late K Patthabi Jois. But there is one of his teachings I continue to come back to on and off my yoga mat: “Pose, Breath, Drishti” (drishti = focused gaze).
His three short guidelines, also called Tristhana, which he used to teach in aphorisms, make absolute sense for the physical yoga practice:
You concentrate on a pose to make sure your body stays healthy and safe. You concentrate on a pose to challenge yourself and get deeper into it. To breathe steadily and deeply helps you to stay in the pose, to calm down your monkey mind and to supply your muscles with oxygen.Drishti supports the alignment of the body. Focusing on a certain spot, like the tip of your nose or your big toe, prevents your gaze from wandering off: checking on the others in the room, picking on the fluff between your toes, or looking at your phone.
Over time I came to understand that “Pose, Breath, Drishti” makes a lot of sense in life off the mat, too:
Concentrating on a pose, aka life situation means to not over- or underdo it, to make modifications according to your personal needs, and to make sure nobody else gets hurts. Breathing helps us to stay in the present moment and do the best we can whatever we are up to right now. Drishti is a means for developing concentrated intention. Lifting your intentions by focusing on a personal drishti or goal adds sense to your life.
When I lose my own focus I tend to look at other people’s careers, or poses, and I try to imitate them. Usually when I do that, I get “hurt” in a figurative sense. I get into poses that are not specific to, and healthy for, me. Breathing, staying in the present moment, helps me to be content. Breathing off the mat makes me appreciate my home, food, the weather, my friends, my loved ones, my work etc. When I forget to breathe I tend to think and to worry about my future at all times.
While on the yoga mat I may focus on my navel, off the mat I focus on why I am doing what I am doing and who I want to be in life. Drishtis help me to focus where I really want to go, and to align my actions with my life values.